Current US Government estimates are that 4.9 million barrels, or about 50,000 gallons per day, bled into the the water column and ecosystem following the Macondo well blow-out and Deepwater Horizon explosion.
However, during and immediately after the catastrophe BP misstated facts. Four days after the explosion, BP officials told the US Coast Guard that its best estimates were 1,000 barrels per day. Yet, engineer Kurt Mix had told supervisors via e-mail that as many as 146,000 barrels a day could be leaking. Last April, Mix was criminally charged by the federal government for destroying this evidence.
Now, as BP looks toward the landmark civil trial looming on Monday, the company is again downplaying estimates.
In a carefully worded press release issued this morning, the company said:
Oil flow rate and quantification of barrels of oil spilled are issues that will be addressed in the second phase of the trial, which is scheduled to begin in September 2013. As BP previously said, although there is inherent uncertainty in this quantification, the company believes that the government’s public estimate of 4.9 million barrels of oil released is at least 20 per cent overstated.
“These issues are extremely complicated as a technical matter, and there is still further analysis to do,” said Mr Bondy. “But it is clear, based on our analysis so far, that the government’s public estimate is simply wrong and overstated by at least 20 per cent.”
Whatever the final number of barrels released from the reservoir is proven to be, BP does not believe that the 810,000 barrels of oil that the company successfully captured from the Macondo reservoir without it entering the Gulf of Mexico waters should be considered in the Court’s future determination of Clean Water Act penalties. Under the Clean Water Act, civil penalties are assessed only on oil that has actually entered the environment and potentially caused harm. The US Department of Justice has indicated that it agrees with BP’s position on this issue. On the basis that the 4.9 million barrels figure includes an over-estimate of at least 20 per cent, and given that a further 810,000 barrels need to be deducted from the volume that flowed from the reservoir, BP believes that a figure of 3.1 million barrels should be the uppermost limit of the number of barrels spilled that should be used in calculating a Clean Water Act penalty.
Penalties for the flow rate will be assessed in the second phase of this civil trial, in September. Monday's trial in New Orleans will introduce evidence as to whether the beleagured oil giant is guilty of "gross negligence."
Examiner will be reporting developments as they come in.
To read today's BP press release about its legal defense in advance of the civil trial, please click here.